July 30, 2019

Wrist pain and yoga

Madison, Wis. — UW Health's Fitness Center experts offer advice for managing wrist pain while you perform yoga.

The shoulders and arms are designed for mobility. They allow us to get our hands into positions to perform tasks such as gardening, trimming your cat’s nails or playing a musical instrument.

Our upper bodies are less well designed for the weight bearing that is asked in strength exercises like plank and in yoga poses like downward facing dog and upward facing dog. This can lead to wrist, neck or shoulder pain. Ignoring your body’s message may allow you to complete your practice for the day, but be aware that you may be causing long term issues by reinforcing poor form.

There are ways to modify your practice to decrease pressure on your wrists.

How to Modify Your Practice to Help Your Wrists

1. Warm up your body adequately for the tasks you are asking it for.

2. Check your hand position: Bracing through the heel of your palm may increase the force in the wrist. Place your hands so the index or middle finger is facing forward. Your fingers should be gently spread, the base of the fingers in contact with the floor, keeping a gentle dome in the middle of the palm. As you move in an exercise you may need a little extra focus in keeping weight on the base of the index finger.

3. Use the muscles of your upper torso and trunk.

  • Soften your elbows, letting them have just a little bend.

  • Let the head of the shoulder settle back into the middle of its socket, collar bones will be wide instead of pinched forward.

  • Rotate your upper arm so that the back of your elbow points more toward your hip instead of out to the side (front elbow creases spin forward).

  • Without actually moving your hands, act as if you were going to pull them on the floor toward your hips – feel the muscles in your underarm and upper back engage a little more. 

  • Exhale as if you are blowing out a straw and feel your lower rib cage and abdominals get strong and connected.

4. Add padding under your palm: Roll up your mat a little or use a foam pad to elevate the heel of your hand. 

5. For some wrists, modifications in form are not enough and changing the exercise is the healthy answer. Plank can be performed on your elbows. Instead of Down Dog, substitute Elbow Dog or Quadruped (table top).

6. If you want the benefits of a plank or down dog sequence without the pressure on your wrists, use a bench, chair or wall to decrease the angle and the stress on the wrists.